Merci is a concept store located in the historic district of Haut-Marais. According to the Merci website, the store was created in March 2009 by Bernard and Marie-France Cohen when they realized that Paris “lacked a place which would bring together the best of the world of fashion, of design, of household goods with welcome refreshment areas” (“Merci | Our Story"). Furthermore, Merci likes to act as a platform for young designers to make themselves known to everyone who visits the store. Bernard and Marie-France Cohen decided that the proceeds from the store would help fund an endowment for educational projects and development in southwest Madagascar. Bernard died in 2010, but Marie-France continued to run Merci. In 2013, she decided to sell the store to the owners of Gérard Darel; the current ownership team continues to contribute to the endowment.
The whole idea of concept stores is fairly new, and it has allowed for a new type of shopping experience to emerge in Paris. Concept stores are different from department stores and passages. LinkedIn defines a concept store as a shop that combines culture with the business of selling. Concept stores sell a curated selection of products from different brands and designers that suggest a certain lifestyle and are meant to appeal to a specific audience. Also, the way the store is designed is also typically meant to provide a certain experience. Merci is geared towards a younger, more hipster-like audience because of its minimalistic layout and the style of the clothing sold. Merci sells men’s and women’s clothing, furniture, lighting, jewelry, dining materials, technology, stationery, and more. Merci also has places to eat and drink. In many ways, Merci is similar to department stores such as the Galeries Lafayette or the Bon Marché, but there are also differences between these two types of shopping options.
Merci is similar to bigger department stores because it is also divided into departments. There is a section for women’s clothing, a section for men’s clothing, a section for furniture, and so on and so forth, just like department stores. Furthermore, Merci is similar to department stores in that it has dining options. There are three different dining option at Merci: La Cantine Merci, the Used Book Café, and the Cinéma Café. La Cantine Merci is open just for lunch and serves healthier food. The Used Book Café is a café that is located in a library filled with 10,000 used books; it serves coffee, brunch, and lunch. The Cinema Café also serves lunch while a classic film is being projected on the wall. While department stores and Merci are both divided into departments and have places to eat, there is some differences between them as well.
Overall, Merci is just smaller compared to the larger department stores around Paris. Just on the basic level of size, department stores have a much bigger physical retail space. When walking through both the Bon Marché and the Galeries Lafayette, it is easy to wander and get disoriented. When visiting these department stores, I often noticed myself not even knowing where the entrance or exit was. However, while Merci is a big, it is not as massive as a department stores. I did not find the space disorienting or confusing, and it was very obvious which department was where. Secondly, when it comes to the designers found at the department stores versus Merci, the department stores carry so many more designers than Merci. The list of brands at the department stores seems almost endless, but the list of brands at Merci, while plentiful, is not countless. Lastly, the food courts at the department stores are so much larger compared to the three dining options at Merci. The Galeries Lafayette has a whole floor devoted to food that is set up like a dining hall, and there are also a few restaurants as well as little places to get ice cream, chocolate, coffee, and pastries. There is also a whole separate building devoted to food. The Bon Marché also has a whole separate building devoted to food that has restaurants and also operates as a sort of grocery store. Merci has just three different options for dining, all of which are restaurants. In general, Merci is smaller than department stores, especially when it comes to physical space, brands offered, and dining options.
Merci also offers a different kind of shopping experience. The pace in Merci is much different than the pace in large department stores as it is much slower and more relaxed. The front door for Merci is tucked away in a court yard filled with greenery, and the most adorable little car sits right out front. Furthermore, the space immediately inside the entrance is not filled with racks of clothing or overstuffed with product. Instead, there is a nice, visually appealing display set up that sets the tone for the rest of the store. The minimalism of the entire store establishes a calm mood for the consumer’s shopping experience. For example, the women’s clothes are all simply displayed on a few lines of racks. On the other hand, department stores offer a fast paced, rushed shopping experience where consumers are immediately greeted with product and the entire focus of the store is on the merchandise. Merci also offers a different sort of shopping atmosphere because of the designers they carry. They do not carry big name, high-end designers, but instead they carry smaller brands. The Galeries Lafayette and the Bon Marché however really try to emphasize the designer products that they carry. The consumer is often immediately greeted with names like Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Hermès, and Chloe when they first walk in which is the complete opposite from Merci. Lastly, Merci offers a different vibe because it has a different ethos than the department stores. Merci is all about giving to others and saying “thank you” to life whereas department stores are all about making money and moving inventory.
Overall, Merci really tries to exemplify a certain lifestyle through their store. The slower pace of the store, the de-emphasis on designer names, and the focus on giving back make for a more relaxed shopping experience. They want the consumer to leave with a sense of lifestyle and culture, not just a new dress or a new pair of shoes.